It is that season when individuals, and even companies, set their sights on New Year Goals. Many of us set individual goals that are health or weight related. That’s really not too different than the goals we should be setting for our manufacturing business. At Wiley Metal, our goals include continuing working toward our ISO 9001 Certification,and as part of that, there are ways we too, can “trim the fat”. The “fat” being the gray areas of our business that either create doubt, slow down efficiency, or otherwise negatively affect our company and our production.

You see, improvement doesn’t have to be dramatic, There is real value in continuous, balanced constant improvement. Many times, it can come from looking at what we are already doing in our manufacturing business, and ask if we can shorten the process. The “process” we are talking about is the gray areas of our sales production, and even billing efforts.

Gray areas manifest themselves with phrases such as “As long as…”, “If we can…”, “Provided our vendor can supply us with…” etc. etc. Gray areas are the enemy of productivity and profit. It is not a bad goal to at least minimize their impact on our businesses in the New Year.

A “Gray Area” Inventory

How are gray areas affecting your business? It starts with an inventory. Since every organization is different, there is no exact science, but it starts with assessing what you don’t know as the process moves along. A simple illustration is when a salesperson gets a large order from a new customer that should, after all, be celebrated. The problem? Until a successful credit check is performed, the order is actually in a “gray area”. How can you prioritize that approval process to minimize the gray area? Are there ways you can shorten the process in this example? This inventory continues through your entire sales, production and follow up processes, right up through payment from the customer. The sooner you can inventory these “gray areas” the sooner you can shorten them. It is trimming the fat off the way you previously conducted business without necessarily changing it.

Solutions to Minimizing Gray Areas

Once you know “what you don’t know”, you can go about shortening how long a particular gray area should last. For example, in the new customer example, can references be checked quicker or credit established sooner. Is there a way to create immediate approval or next day approval?

Other gray areas can be shortened through simple steps as utilizing “shadow boards”where each tool is returned to a outline of that tool on a peg board or similar space. Documenting your current practices and reviewing them will also lead you to some conclusions that things can be done more efficiently. How can barcoding WIP help eliminate these gray areas? What about inventory control, employee scheduling, and pre-billing based-on-approval shorten these unknown times?

Sure, we’ve all heard time is money but unless we understand what is causing these delays and take a serious look at how we can shorten them without affecting quality, we will continue to be less efficient than we can be.

Make a Commitment to Better Manage Gray Areas

Part of our metal fabrication 2017 goals at Wiley Metal include minimizing gray areas. From hiring to billing, if we can uncover day-savings ways to accomplish these tasks, it is helping us become a better supplier. The key is not confusing minimizing gray areas with immediacy. Immediacy can lead to mistakes. Just take a look at what you are already doing well, and shorten those gray areas. It is part of our overall goals for the New Year at Wiley Metal. What goals will you be working on in 2017? We would love to hear!